Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).
Bathing Beauties: Bathrooms Become Spa-like Retreats
Improve the bathroom and you improve the odds that a buyer will fall in love with the home.
July 1, 2007
Kitchens, media rooms, and outdoor terraces are the spots where families and friends flock to enjoy time together. But just as important for busy home owners is a peaceful escape where they can turn to unwind and refresh, if even for a few minutes.
That's one reason why the bathroom continues to be one of the most important rooms buyers consider when choosing a home. And that's also why home owners spend generously on upgrades to this essential space — adding more square footage, bigger showers, fancier tubs, lots of light, sitting areas, and upscale fixtures.
Because of their importance to buyers, bathroom improvements rank among the highest of all remodeling projects in terms of resale value, according to the 2006 "Cost vs. Value Report," published by Remodeling magazine. The average midrange bathroom remodeling project costs $12,918 and recoups 85 percent of its value when the home sells, while an upscale bathroom project averages $38,165 and recoups 77 percent of its value, the report says.
A remodeled bathroom is also a strong selling point because today's busy home buyers want work done before they move in, says Peggy Shepley with Prudential Alliance in suburban St. Louis. Homes with outdated bathrooms are more likely to sit on the market longer — and dropping the price to cover the expense of a makeover doesn't always work. "It doesn't factor in the time it takes to redo the bathrooms," Shepley says.
Creating That Hotel Feeling
Bathroom design experts who are in tune with the latest remodeling trends say today's home owners seek to recreate the spa-like feel of the bathrooms they see in upscale hotels.
After all, what's better than having a vacation destination in your own home?
To accomplish the look, designers bring in textured materials, cool and calming colors, dimmable lighting, soothing sounds, and fragrant smells. In the largest bathrooms, you might even see a massage table or a pedicure spa tub.
Insightful entrepreneurs have picked up on consumers' desire to bring home the plush hotel towels, comfy bathrobes, upscale décor — and yes, even the bathroom sink. Hotel Luxury, based in Boston, was launched to help luxury and boutique hotels sell their goods to guests.
"Hotels liked the idea of receiving revenue and extending their brand and loyalty into the home," says Sara Bates, Hotel Luxury's vice president. "And travelers loved the idea of recreating the look at home."
As Shepley noted, luxurious bathrooms do more than help home owners unwind — they also help attract buyers. With this in mind, new developments such as the Element Condominiums — a posh 35-story high-rise going up in New York City — includes master bathrooms that are designed to impress. Element's bathrooms include marble countertops, custom vanities, and deep soaking tubs with waterfall-style spouts.
Home owners who want their bathrooms to stand out should consult with experts to determine what makes sense in relation to the style and size of the home and the bathroom's existing condition, says consumer trends expert Robyn Waters, author ofThe Hummer and The Mini(Penguin Portfolio, 2006). Also, be sure to hire a reputable installer who will ensure the fixtures, cabinetry, and accessories are hung just right, Waters says. Those little details are what make a bathroom shine.
Bathrooms Become Living Rooms
What other trends are today's design gurus seeing (and creating) in bathrooms? In addition to adding a touch of luxury, home owners want amenities that turn the bathroom into a comfortable getaway where they can be entertained while they relax.
Tricked-out tubs. The old-fashioned whirlpool tub with water jets may have lost cachet, but don't believe naysayers who declared the tub dead. "One day they may want a luxurious soaking bath with hydrotherapy and another day they may want a luxurious shower," says Waters. Air jets and soaking tubs — similar to Japanese ofuros — hold wide appeal. Today's tubs have a dazzling range of features: programmable massage settings, chromaptherapy mood lighting, built-in stereo speakers, pop-up TVs, and even wine chillers.
Furniture-style cabinets. The trend to personalize kitchens with cabinetry that resembles furniture has moved from kitchens into bathrooms. American Standard has taken the concept a step further and is manufacturing pre-assembled cabinets with fixtures like a sink already installed. "All home owners have to do is open a large box and 'unfold' the item," says Gary Uhl, director of design.
Mini kitchens. Bathrooms are turning into mini kitchens to pare early morning and late night treks to the main kitchen, says architect Jeanne Cabral of Columbus, Ohio. One clever addition to the traditional line-up of coffee maker, microwave, and small refrigerator is a medicine cabinet with a cold storage area to keep beverages, beauty products, and medicines chilled. (Pictured here is a refrigerated medicine cabinet by Robern.)
Accessibility for all. A recent survey of architects shows that accessibility for the country's aging population is shaping design, says Kermit Baker, chief economist at The American Institute of Architects and director of the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. "It's being driven by baby boomers approaching retirement who are adapting their homes to meet their long-term needs, along with those who are caring for aging parents or relatives," he says. Accessible bathroom features include wider doors, toilets with a raised lip so the user doesn't have to bend deeply, and electronic faucets that eliminate turning a knob. In addition, contrasting colors can draw attention to steps to eliminate falls, says Chicago designer Leslie Markman-Stern.
Hidden nozzles, dazzling light shows. Home owners still crave jets, rainheads, and body sprayers, but the new trend is more discreet nozzles, including ones that resemble tiles. To make the shower experience more pleasurable, companies have introduced heat, light, chromatherapy, aromatherapy, and audio features. TAG Studio's $100,000 "SilverTAG" shower allows users to program 18 different sequences on a touch screen and have the water hit six different body zones, says company founder Tag Galyean.
Wet rooms. The bathroom version of the "great room" is the "wet room," which has a tub and open shower in one large space — big enough to accommodate at least two, says Eran Chen, a New York designer with Perkins Eastman. Some bathrooms are also open to the master bedroom, with a separation only for the toilet, says Michael Wandschneider, senior product manager for performance showering at Kohler Co.
Energy-wise products. More green designs are cutting down on water usage. Examples: toilets that flush fewer gallons, showerheads that use less water, foot pedal controls that make it harder to leave water running, countertops made of recycled-paper, nontoxic paints, and heat reclamation systems that recirculate heat in showers and tubs to avoid consuming "new" hot water, says architect Eric Corey Freed, with Organic Architect in San Francisco and author of the forthcoming book, Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies(Wiley, 2007).
Bye-bye brass. Polished chrome, stainless steel, brushed nickel, and handcrafted bronze finishes have replaced brass as the "it" finish for faucets, drawer pulls, and other accessories, says Sean Ruck, a spokesperson for the National Kitchen & Bath Association.
Warm it up. First, heated towel racks became the rage, then radiant heated floors. Now, home owners are buying toilets with warm seats, towel warming drawers, showers that can be turned on and warmed up before stepping in, and radiant heated tub and shower base liners that also have the effect of warming the water.
Better smelling rooms. New fans, such as WhisperGreen by Panasonic, stay on continuously and automatically boost themselves when needed through a motion sensor.
Pleasant sounds. While many tubs and showers now come with audio equipment, home owners also can buy waterproof speakers that match a décor. (Look closely at the photo on the right to see the white bathroom speakers from Axiom Audio, headquartered in Dwight, Ontario.)
Enhanced lighting. With the spotlight on bathrooms, designers know the importance of a better mix of general, ambient, and task lighting, including "green" compact fluorescent and LED lamps. Bathrooms in the Element high-rise in New York, for example, have cove lighting in ceilings and toe lighting in lower cabinets to illuminate the entire space from top to bottom.
Entertainment everywhere. Flat-screen TVs installed on walls, in mirrors, and in tubs and showers now allow home owners to remain in touch with breaking news or a favorite TV show while in the bathroom. At the Georgia Club community near Athens, Ga., bathrooms include a TV screen that can be programmed so that by a touch of a button it shows who's standing at the front door if the doorbell rings for good security.
Ancillary bathrooms. Luxury demands that every bedroom have its own bathroom — even if it's tiny, says Uhl of American Standard, which has introduced scaled-down designs such as its "Cadet 3 Compact" for smaller rooms. Designers are transforming powder rooms into small jewel boxes and children's bathrooms into spaces that reflect a theme and gender — perhaps, dancing ballerinas for little girls or baseball diamonds for boys, says real-estate practitioner Shepley.
Bathrooms for fido. Manufacturers know you love your pets, so they've created special rooms just for the dog. MTI Whirlpools' Jentle Pet spa for dogs includes whirlpool jets, air volume control pump, removable screen to trap hair, and shelves for grooming supplies. Woof, woof.